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Sole possession of 3rd place on the line as BYU visits Pepperdine

Brigham Young Cougars guard Tyler Haws (3) shoots as the Brigham Young University Cougars play the Pepperdine Waves.
Brigham Young Cougars guard Tyler Haws (3) shoots as the Brigham Young University Cougars play the Pepperdine Waves.
Chelsey Allder, Deseret News

MALIBU, Calif. — When asked what he recalls about BYU’s bitter 67-61 setback at home to Pepperdine on Jan. 8, guard Kyle Collinsworth kept it simple.

“We lost,” he said. “They took it to us. They played better than us. We’ll remember that when we play them Thursday.”

Yes, the rematch between Cougars and Waves takes place at Firestone Fieldhouse Thursday (9 p.m. MST, Root), with the winner claiming sole possession of third place in the West Coast Conference standings.

While there are still more big games to come in the final month of the regular season, finishing third will be important by the time the WCC tournament rolls around. The No. 4 seed could meet league-leader, and No. 2 ranked, Gonzaga in the semifinals. The No. 3 seed wouldn’t meet the Zags until the championship game.

Meanwhile, BYU’s NCAA tournament at-large hopes hinge on a strong finish in the final month, starting Thursday. The Cougars would like nothing more than to avenge that loss to Pepperdine at home in early January.

But it won’t be easy.

“Anytime someone beats you, whether it’s at your place or at their place, it kind of makes you want get back in there and get a win back at them,” said guard Chase Fischer. “They just beat us (in Provo). They played really well and they’re a really good team. We’ve got a tough task ahead of us.”

That night at the Marriott Center, Pepperdine forward Stacy Davis scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Jeremy Major and Jett Raines chipped in 14 and 10 points, respectively.

The Waves slowed the game down against BYU, which leads the nation in scoring.

“Stacy Davis had a great game against us last time. He hit a couple of threes, posted us up,” said BYU coach Dave Rose. “He’s a handful and he always has been for us. His career average against us is pretty good. When you evaluate that game, the pace of the game was at their liking. It was in the 60s. Hopefully, we’re better prepared to win a game in the 60s if it’s there. Maybe we can push the pace a little bit.”

BYU shot just 38 percent that night, including 6-of-26 from 3-point range. Tyler Haws led all scorers with 26 points while Anson Winder chipped in 16.

“They have great players. They’re a great team, they’re a great defensive team,” said Collinsworth. “Stacy Davis is really tough to guard. He’s a stretch four and he’s very physical. … It’s a win we have to get. We’ll be ready on Thursday.”

Since that six-point loss to Pepperdine, “we’re playing with a lot more urgency,” said Fischer, who came off the bench to knock down five 3-pointer in last Saturday’s win against Santa Clara. “There’s just a little edge to us. The pace is a lot better and we’re executing a lot better. They forced us to do what they wanted us to do (in Provo). Their defense is strong and they switch a lot. They dictated the tempo. We’re doing a better job of dictating the tempo of games.”

The Cougars are well-aware of what’s at stake in the final four weeks of the regular season.

“There’s kind of a feeling that we have a lot more to do and we don’t have a large margin for error,” Fischer said. “The intensity has picked up. There’s no relaxing. It’s a lot more tense. I think that’s how it should be.”